A Screaming Man: Film Review

A simple tale of the love between a father and a son, and the way political, social and economic pressures threaten that love, the film provides a welcome wake-up call about what's going on in the rest of the world.

CANNES -- The heartfelt yet very modest film A Screaming Man (Un Homme qui crie), set in perennially war-torn Chad, probably doesn't really belong in the Cannes competition, but it's good to see it there anyway.

A simple tale of the love between a father and a son, and the way political, social and economic pressures threaten that love, the film provides a welcome wake-up call about what's going on in the rest of the world while festivalgoers gorge themselves on elaborate hors d'oeuvres and Provencal rose.

Alas, films that are good for people, like spinach, aren't always (or ever) popular at the boxoffice, hence commercial prospects for Chadian director Mahamet-Saleh Haroun's film are dim. Nevertheless, festival programmers should give this quietly powerful film a serious look.

Adam, the protagonist, is a fiftysomething former swimming champion, known to everyone as "Champ," who happily reigns, as pool boy, over the swimming pool at a local resort which has been taken over by the Chinese. When management decides to downsize, he is laid off from the beloved job that has given so much status and meaning to his life (reminiscent of the doorman in Murnau's 1924 silent classic "The Last Laugh"). When his equally beloved son Abdel takes his place, jealousy is created where once there was only love.

In the meantime, Adam is being pressured by local authorities to contribute to the government's war effort against the ever-present rebels, and because he has no money to give them, they "draft" (kidnap) Abdel into the army. Torn by conflicting desires, Adam doesn't try to protect his son and is slowly but irrevocably overwhelmed by guilt. But rather than "scream," Adam suffers in silence, a psychological state powerfully rendered by director Haroun. In fact, the film's title would probably make more sense if it were translated as "The Man Who Cried Out."

War is everywhere, in the sound of the jets heard overhead (a device that recalls Tran Anh Hung's The Scent of Green Papaya), in the constant, increasingly frenetic radio reports concerning the advancing guerrillas, and in the teeming refugees that flee to neighboring countries once the city is threatened.

But Haroun is uninterested in big war scenes and is best at evoking the little details of life, as when Adam and his wife, Mariam, sensuously share a dripping piece of watermelon while watching the increasingly frightening news reports on the television. Another, more haunting image comes as he drives his motorcycle down a pitch-black alley as his little headlight becomes tinier and tinier against the night. Haroun's camera techniques aren't flashy, but rather quietly powerful when, for example, he oh-so-slowly zooms in on Adam's stricken face or when he shows a dead body floating down the river in the evening light.

A bit of much-needed humor is provided by colorful minor characters like the resort's cook who "cooks from the heart" and puts in too much salt only when he's in love, and the gatekeeper who dreams of winning the lottery so he won't have to keep raising and lowering the gate in response to the importunate car horns of self-important resort guests. An emotional high point occurs when Abdel's 17-year-old pregnant girlfriend, who comes to lives with Adam and Miriam once Abdel is abducted, sings a song of woe in untranslated (and probably untranslatable) but immensely sorrowful lyrics.

Venue: Festival de Cannes -- Competition
Production Companies: Pili Films, Goi-Goi Prods.
Cast: Youssouf Djaoro, Diouc Koma, Emile Abossolo M'Bo, Hadje Fatime N'Goua, Djeneba Kone
Director: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
Screenwriter: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
Producer: Florence Stern
Director of photography: Laurent Brunet
Production designer: Ledoux Madeona
Music: Wasis Diop
Costume designer: Celine Delaire
Editor: Marie-Helene Dozo
Sales: Pyramide International
No rating, 92 minutes

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